ABOVE ALL OTHERS

 
download+(1).png

When you sign up to the newsletter you will receive exclusive Modern Classics magazine content every fortnight! Love your hero cars from the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s? Then this is the newsletter for you. 

 

GT Porsches are the toast of auction land, and the 996 GT3 RS is the latest to soar. But is it worth the hype?

Words Rob Scorah Photography Neil Fraser

6J7A9361_preview.jpg

These days, it’s almost a conditioned response; our reaction to the red on purest white, to the squirley script and the unadorned, rounded slope-backed shape. It’s a kind of heightened expectation about what that means; it’s an RS; a Porsche, a 911 – only more so. All were homologation exercises. In 1972, it said Carrera, and woe betide anyone who let the ducktail cuteness lull them into thinking this was anything less than a Group Four racing dominator. In 1984 with the 911 SC RS, it didn’t ‘say’ anything; just that pure white on the 20 cars needed to go Group B rallying. 

In 2003 it said GT3 RS, in either red or blue, and with wheels to match. After three decades of the tradition, you knew that this meant lighter, leaner, keener and more alert. And probably, a little bit faster. The RS of ’03 was the less-is-more version of Porsche’s latest incarnation of the 996 GT3, which had not long taken over from the first of this higher-performance evolution, launched in 1999. All of the GT3 bloodline traced a lineage back to racing aristocracy, and the RS, with its stripped-down demeanour, brought you even closer to the track cars.

There’s something of a puzzle if you look at the spec sheets side by side; the pared-down edition weighs more or less the same as the full-fat version. On this RS, we’ve got a carbon bonnet with a lightweight badge that is simply a sticker. We’ve got a polycarbonate rear window and no back seats. But then, the standard GT3 had no back seats either. You’ll also find that the hot-driving version gets a little bit hotter still – the air-con is gone. For excitement’s sake, you might not care that some of the soundproofing has also been chucked out. And anyway, the radio’s gone too. In an RS, you want to drive harder than your average 911 pilot, so you hope the weight has gone into things that matter. Looking behind the seats, you’ll see that it has – a thick cross-braced roll cage in the rear.

290.2-3_preview.jpg

Looking around the cabin of the ’03 car reminds me of its 1970s forbear; bucket seats, full straps and that half cage. The similarity is hopefully because both were designed with almost identical intent, rather than contrived nostalgia. The dash in both was, and is, fairly standard road car – sporting chic, though more minimal the first time round. I’m liking the body-coloured transmission tunnel, brushed metal details, and grey suede with red stitching. I’ve just noticed that this car has a radio, though I don’t think I’ll want it today. In any 911, you want to hear that flat six.

If you’ve come straight from old-school and air-cooled, the sound from the back of the GT3 RS won’t be a shock, but it is... different. The 996 was the first of the liquid-cooled cars. So there’s that veiling of the higher frequencies. It’s less thrashy. Some of the hotter 911s could make you wonder if the engine bay was lined with tin. In this, there’s a modern boutique-exhaust/sports burr infused with that low, slightly asymmetric boxer burble. But yes; it’s still a Porsche ‘six’, and when it moves away there is still that (albeit more muffled) dialogue between engine and transmission. And the odd extraneous whine.

The GT3 line boasted what became known as the Mezger engines. Hans Mezger had been designing Porsche motors for almost four decades, but this lump was a genuine dry-sump unit, with its origins in the powerplant he designed for the air-cooled 911 GT1 Le Mans car. It was also a similar motor to the one found in the 962 prototype. But where that engine was able to indulge in exotic cylinder heads, the M96/72’s four-valve heads were derived from those of the still rarefied (and water-cooled) 959. So some serious and direct motorsport lineage here.

With some marques, such pedigree comes with a certain degree of ‘attitude’, but this is a Porsche and it feels anything but highly strung in the first few miles. There’s a wonderful connectedness between throttle and engine, with a lively response in the revs – like the more exotic Carrera GT – that reminds you this car has a low-mass flywheel. The RS also has a different clutch to the standard GT3. All the geartrain connections feel very mechanical, but very smooth and nicely engineered.

That balance between unrefined sports car and sophisticated GT is set differently in every 911, but no matter how much leather you put in them, there’s still the faintest trace of max’d out Vee-Dub hot rod. Talking of hot-rodding; the bolt-on Nismo-style big wing gives a hint of where this one is going – none of that discreet, speed-sensitive elevating spoiler malarkey – just slap that sucker on and you’re good to go. 

Under that big carbon fibre blade is a very retro-looking, duck tail-like fin. But again this is a thoroughly modern appendage; it’s an air collector, which uses pressure build-up to keep feeding air to the 'bay at high speeds.

But maybe it’s not a great idea to go all out and get too familiar with the machine until you’ve felt your way around it. It is a 911 after all and like all its older siblings has its engine where no one in their right mind would want to stick a large weight on a sports car – one big pendulum. One of the model’s chief paradoxes has been the desire – almost need – in any new iteration, to be a true old-school 911 while still pushing the technology forward.

I’m liking the fact that the car still feels small. And I’m still sitting on the floor with floor-mounted pedals and shifting a floor-mounted gear shift – you know – one with connecting rods and stuff. Like the older cars, everything here is close; the gear shift hard by your thigh, and the relatively large, tactile steering wheel between your knees.

The RS’s steering is one of the car’s most engaging assets. It’s meatier than a standard GT3, again enhancing that track car feel. You seem to feel every nuance of the road’s surface through it, and yes, the tarmac will now and again lure the front wheels into following ruts and cambers, but the car’s response to your input is very direct and its turn-in to bends is immediate. Its accuracy, coupled to this Porsche’s almost uncanny grip on the asphalt, gives you huge confidence in the machine.

The six-speed manual gearbox too is likewise precise and beautifully-weighted. The shift is always quick to the right cogs, the engine’s powerband so easily accessible. Does it do that 911 thing where the car is pretty disinterested until 4500rpm? There’s a lot less of that. The big torque sits lower in the rev range than the standard car, some 273lb-ft at 4250rpm. But of course, it does get exponentially more lively as you pile on the revs. And the motor gets more exotic, more track car-like in its tone.

Go down a gear, drop your right leg and the RS quickly becomes a fiercely rapid machine, though rarely is it trying to get away from you. Your whole concentration can be focused on the line, controlling the Porsche with tight, smooth, from-the-shoulders gestures, never wrenching the car from you, even in tight turns.

A great thing about a 911, and more acutely this RS, is how it bonds with British roads; the furious build up of power you can unleash on long, arcing A-road curves, the progressive bite of the brakes – the car keeping its balance, and the weight-shifting, ducking and diving along B-roads. Though not so much diving – the new, firmer suspension has dialled that out. But there’s still great weight-poise-angle management with the throttle – making the nose
bite just before the turn, or pushing the car almost into a drift over the apex. 

It’s that level of intimate, nuanced control that makes the RS the most involving Porsche of its generation.

IMG_0866.2.jpg

Porsche 911 GT3 RS

Specifications:    

Engine                        3596cc/6-cyl/DOHC

Transmission              RWD, 5-speed manual

Power                         381bhp@7400rpm

Torque                        284lb-ft @5000rpm

Weight                        1360kg

Performance:

0-60mph                                 4.4sec

Top speed                               190mph

Economy                                 18mpg

IMG_0797.jpg
IMG_0791.jpg

The Modern Classics view

The RS achieves a curious feat which only a small band of machines manage to achieve. It’s something to do with things unfolding rapidly yet never happening too fast. 

In taking ever more liberties in spooling out the power in the twisty lanes, the rear end at last decided to take a slightly different line to the front. Not with the alarming ‘catch this, sucker’ attitude of the 1970s Turbo, but more with an instinctive ‘this is how we’re doing it’ you’d sense as an ice skater when you know you’ve positioned yourself to drift slightly. You know it because your legs are connected to your backside and to your gut. And in that same way – rubber-to-steel-to-rump – you feel the GT3 RS and the linear progressiveness of its gestures.

That sums up the RS-ness of the machine. It’s not the power. In fact, if you look at the spec sheets (again), this thing isn’t really any faster than the standard GT3. It’s the connectedness, the involvement and thereby the intensity of the ‘mechanical’ driving experience. 

Did I still long for an air-cooled 911? Despite the older models’ occasionally slightly bonkers demeanour and the facial expression of an amphetamine-fed frog, I once reckoned no new 99-whatever would ever take their place. But this 996 ‘special’ manages to retain almost all the qualities of the air-cooled cars while bestowing tech which, largely, only enhance its character and abilities. 

Good grief; out of all the variants gone and those yet to come... could this be the perfect driver’s Porsche 911?  

TRACK MARKS

 
download+(1).png

When you sign up to the newsletter you will receive exclusive Modern Classics magazine content every fortnight! Love your hero cars from the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s? Then this is the newsletter for you. 

 

They were the ultimate machines in the frenetic world of ’80s German touring car racing – but should BMW’s Sport Evo or Mercedes-Benz’ 2.5-16 Evo II be the car to crave today? 

Words Chris Chilton   Photography Neil Fraser

IMG_6030.jpg

Think of the key 1980s battles. Iran fighting Iraq for dominance of the Persian Gulf. Testarossa versus Countach for supercar supremacy. Wham versus Duran Duran for space on your sister’s wall. For schoolkids in der Fatherland, there was another serious grudge match going on. In the DTM touring car series, Germany’s home-grown tin-top championship, BMW’s E30 M3 was duking it out with the Cosworth-powered Mercedes-Benz 190E.

Instead of one of the big six-cylinder motors both firms were known for, they used screaming 2.3-litre fours, sending more than 300bhp to the rear wheels in competition trim. But these were no silhouette racers. To legitimise these cars in the eyes of the FIA, BMW and Mercedes-Benz had to build 5000 examples. The result was some thrilling racing and a pair of now legendary road cars.

But stand still in racing and you’ve lost. In their battle to stay ahead BMW and Mercedes-Benz needed to push their ageing cars further. And the FIA obliged, allowing car makers to homologate changes to existing models by building just 500 roadgoing examples. These weren’t ground-up rebuilds, but evolutionary changes. The Evo was born.

Unknown-1.jpg

BMW M3 SPORT EVO

‘Go on, rev it up!’ demands the oik on the bike at the petrol station. We try to wave him away, telling him he’s got the wrong idea and will be disappointed, but he’s adamant. You can see why. They’re all high-rise spoilers and jutting splitters, menacing black paint and fat arches. Maybe he recognises the M3 badge mounted at both ends of the BMW. Maybe he’s confused by the lack of an AMG one on the 190E, but the ludicrous front splitter probably more than makes up for it. To oik, weaned on a diet of Shmee150 and Top Gear, they were obviously going to emit some kind of glass-shattering shriek or bowel loosening bellow. But they don’t. I give the M3 a few chunky blips. The sound is hard-edged, crisp and purposeful, but totally disappointing in the context of a modern ’63-engined AMG. Oik looks nonplussed and rides off.

He was a child, likely born 15 years after these cars’ heyday, but even when they were new you had to understand why they existed to see the appeal. Because in both cases you could buy a conventional six-cylinder car with almost as much power, and a much fruitier soundtrack, for less money. And in the case of the BMW, sit on the right side of the car.

Does that left-hook layout add to the M3’s kudos on a subliminal level, like the boxy arch flares and re-profiled rear window? Possibly. It certainly makes grappling with the Getrag dogleg ’box – another touch of the exotic, or maybe just anachronistic – an even bigger challenge, at least for us Brits. That gearbox was connected to a 2.3-litre four-cylinder engine in the original 1986 M3. A bored and stroked version of the 2.0-litre M10 four found in the early 320i, the M3’s cast iron block is canted over at 30º and topped with a twin cam 16-valve head.

For all the hype, original M3s can seem pretty underwhelming coming to them fresh with modern eyes. Yes, the handling is sweet, but it can feel like there’s simply not enough engine to make the most of it. The little 2.3 sounds pretty tuneless and is only moderately muscular. Early cat-equipped cars produced as little as 195bhp, along with 176lb-ft of torque, although later cars nudged power up to a more substantial 215bhp.

But the Sport Evolution was different. It was the third M3 Evo, built in greater numbers than Evos 1 and 2, and less successful on track, but hugely more desirable today. And when it comes to the Sport Evo, you can just about believe the hype. It’s the one first-gen M3 that really feels like something quick when you toe it.

Stretched to 2.5-litres it squeezes 235bhp at 7000rpm and, if not quite the wind from your lungs, it at least gives you a proper slap on the back. That extra capacity makes it feel like there’s more punch low down, though the figures say there’s a solitary lb-ft in it. Either way, you need to stroke that ’box to make the scenery blur, something made more difficult by this car with its sloppy bushings, a notorious used BMW weakness.

Get the rev counter spinning and the flat noise turns into something more serious. Never tuneful, it’s interesting to listen to with those four individual throttle bodies metering out precisely the right amount of fuel. This is an E30 M3 that has enough muscle to haul your neck hairs to attention and ask some proper questions of the E30’s excellent chassis.

That’s the M3’s chassis, as opposed to a regular 3-Series’ item. I love E30s, the styling, the compact size and the solidity, but with the steering ratio of a manual window winder and the traction of a pair of banana skin-soled moccasins on greasy lino, they’re not quite the dynamic deity they’re often made out to be. Fortunately, there are more changes to an M3 than simply wider arches. Although the suspension layout is the same, meaning there’s a pair of struts up front and a pair of trailing arms at the rear, the hub assemblies are actually from the E28 5-Series. The geometry was different at both ends too, and the steering lost almost an entire spin between the stops for a more respectable, if still hardly spirited, 3.6 turns.

That was for the M3s and the Evo I and II derivatives that followed. The Sport Evo dropped 10mm closer to the ground and had even wider arches to fit racing rubber, although road cars wore the same 16in BBS rims as earlier Evos. Even with the 2.5’s extra muscle, the Sport Evo feels rock-solid, responding smartly to steering inputs and soaking up all your right foot can throw at it. Body roll is well controlled and the brakes feel firm. This is a light and taught car that feels like a proper racer, where the contemporary 325i feels more extrovert and less together. 

You’d have to try hard to slide the Sport Evo around, which, if you’ve spent any time in grunty 1980s BMWs, is a surprise. The curved dash and slab-sided door glass feel familiar – so familiar that it’s hard to reconcile the near-£100k price, particularly given that this car – sold at a recent Historics at Brooklands auction for £78,400 – is in far less sorted nick than one I drove in 2007 when they were worth a fifth of today’s values. But the market says that’s what they’re worth, and they’re still climbing. 

6J7A4622 si_preview.jpg

BMW M3 Sport Evolution

Specifications:    

Engine                        2467cc, 4cyl, DOHC

Transmission              RWD, 5-speed manual

Power                         235bhp@7000prm

Torque                        177lb-ft@4750rpm

Weight                        1255kg

Performance:

0-60mph                                 6.5sec

Top speed                               154mph

Economy                                 22-30mpg

6J7A47192.jpg
6J7A4719.jpg

Mercedes 190E 16V Evo II

On track and at auction, the 16-valve 190 has been playing catch up. The 190E Evo II, however, is not like other 190s. There’s no mistaking this thing for a gussied up Munich minicab. Looks outrageous, doesn’t it? And we’re looking at it through eyes that have become accustomed to watching Evos and Imprezas prowling high streets and seeing be-winged Porsches on every magazine cover. This car came out in 1990.

Let’s briefly rewind six years, and the launch of the car underneath that battle dress. Officially known as the 190E 2.3-16 in honour of its size and the number of valves belonging to the special engine underneath its bonnet, it’s often just referred to by the people who did the work: Cosworth. Bolting a four-valve twin-cam head onto the 190E’s exiting 2.3-litre bottom-end resulted in a useful 185bhp and 173lb-ft of torque in the road cars, more than double what a cooking 190 offered.

The hot 190 was supposedly engineered with rallying in mind, to continue the success Mercedes-Benz had achieved with the SLC. But by the time the engineering had been done, Audi’s four-wheel drive Quattro had changed the game. Instead, the hottest 190 would earn its stripes on track. And it did that before even entering the DTM world, first setting a stack of endurance records at the Nardo high-speed bowl in Italy in 1983, and in 1994 providing a PR boost for both the Mercedes-Benz brand and a young up-and-coming F1 driver, when Ayrton Senna slayed a stack of F1 stars past and present in a one-off one-model race before the 1984 Nürburgring Grand Prix.

With no livery, just each driver’s name above each sill of 20 plain-looking saloons hurtling around a German race circuit, it must have looked like a bunch of reps on a team building day. As if the sober four-door styling didn’t already tell you as much, one option on the spec sheet gave a clue that the 2.3-16 was a more gentlemanly steer than the M3. While the standard gearbox was the very same dogleg Getrag ’box you’ll find in an M3, Mercedes-Benz also offered a four-speed automatic alternative from 1985. As far as most road car fans were concerned, the other big news in 190 chronology was the switch to 2.5-litre power in 1988, boosting output to 204bhp and adding the security of double timing chains.

But, though little known in the UK, there was more to come. In 1989 Mercedes-Benz launched the Evo 1 featuring a more aggressive body kit than standard, with a larger rear wing and deeper front spoiler. Wheels, similar in style, were actually an inch bigger to cover larger brakes. And though the engine was another 2.5-litre lump offering an identical 204bhp, with, confusingly, 5lb-ft less twist action, its internal dimensions were different, giving more tuning leeway on track. But it wasn’t enough. BMW tied up that year’s championship, leaving Mercedes-Benz trailing in fourth. Enter the Evo II.

And what an entrance. That much plastic shouldn’t look right on a humble four-door saloon, let alone one from staid old Mercedes-Benz, but the Evo carries it off. Those 17in wheels are an inch bigger than the M3’s and bolted to suspension that can be shifted through three different ride heights via a switch on the dash. Drop into the driver’s seat and you’re immediately aware of how much less huggy, and how much more slippery the seat is than the excellent Recaro SRDs in the Sport Evo M3. The steering wheel is a typically huge Mercedes-Benz affair too, though supposedly smaller than the norm, its ugly boss ruining the sporting atmosphere. Hmm. In truth, having spent quite a few miles in Sport Evos, I’m not expecting a great deal from the Benz.

Big mistake. It’s laugh-out-loud brilliant. There are clues to this car’s special nature before you’ve turned the spindly key or twisted the wheel to sample steering that’s way more talkative and responsive than you’d expect given that it’s a doddery old recirculating ball setup. Stuff like: a production number (323/500 in this case) on the gearknob, and a rev counter that’s not cordoned off until almost 8000rpm. The engine is superb. Not growly enough to impress our garage forecourt audience, but a serious bit of kit. It’s essentially an Evo 1 engine with an even higher compression ratio, and all the better with a few revs on the dial. Wind it out and it feels and sounds angrier than the M3’s with a really vicious bite at the top end as it soars on past its 232bhp power peak to 7800rpm, 800rpm after the BMW has thrown in the monogrammed M towel.

The gearshift is notchy, but throw the lever across the incongruously wood-trimmed console with your right hand (like all M3s, 190 Evos were exclusively left hookers) and the travel seems shorter than the BMW’s. 

Contemporary – and obviously conservative – manufacturers’ figures tell you that the BMW was quicker, getting to 62mph in 6.3sec, to the Merc’s 7.1, which ought to tally with their identical power outputs given that the 1255kg BMW is 85kg lighter. But which one makes the driver feel like a heavyweight driving hero? 

IMG_6023 e si_preview.jpg

Mercedes 190E 2.5-16 Evolution II

Specifications:    

Engine                        2463cc, 4cyl, DOHC

Transmission              RWD, 5-speed manual

Power                         232bhp@7200rpm

Torque                        181lb-ft@5000rpm

Weight                        1340kg

Performance:

0-60mph                                 7.1sec

Top speed                               155mph

Economy                                 20-28mpg

6J7A4735.jpg
RP - M3CLK-15_preview.jpg

The Modern Classics view

On the road these cars feel all but inseparable in a straight line, but through corners, and even with its special limited slip differential apportioning the torque, only the 190’s engine feels strong enough to trouble those rear tyres. It’s a fascinating car and – brilliant though the Sport Evo certainly is – by the end of the day it’s the Mercedes-Benz that feels that bit more special. 

Collectors seem to agree. Today the 502 190 Evo IIs are worth huge money. This car wears just 8700km and a £220k sticker in the window, dwarfing even that of a
good E30 Sport Evo, reflecting its rarity, its outlandish persona and the fact that it was the only 190 capable of outmanoeuvring its nemesis on track. It doesn’t roar like a modern AMG, or play elevens with a lazy stroke of the right foot. It’s the purest kind of homologation special, a car that exists only to let its track-based brothers go faster. The kid at the garage didn’t get it, but we know better. 

This article appeared in the February 2017 issue (issue 9) – to buy a copy, and get all the photos and more besides, Click Here

BORN SLIPPY

 
download+(1).png

When you sign up to the newsletter you will receive exclusive Modern Classics magazine content every fortnight! Love your hero cars from the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s? Then this is the newsletter for you. 

 

Mercedes CLK63 AMG Black vs BMW M3 CSL

Rising M3 CSL prices have put it on a collision path with the rarer CLK63 AMG Black. Which one delivers the best thrills per £1?

Words Nathan Chadwick Photography Richard Pardon

RP - CLKM3-125.jpg

Think useable trackday sportscar, think 911 GT3, right? Yes, it’s a great car, but hamstrung by an image problem. That huge fixed rear wing may be an altar of worship for enthusiasts, but it’s a homing beacon for inverted snobbery. 

BMW and Mercedes offered more subtle trackday machinery in the mid-2000s, cars that were rather more useable. Both offered spectacular pace and immersive handling, but with the space and refinement for everyday use. Both even have automatic gearboxes, for when you want to cruise home after a day pounding round Brands Hatch. 

The BMW M3 CSL came first in 2003, and to rapturous praise. It was about £20,000 more than the standard M3, but the extensive lightening, stiffening and honing was deemed to have made the £58,000 entry cost worthwhile. 

All 422 cars sold out quickly, and rumours abound that BMW smuggled an extra 100 in from other territories to satisfy demand.

Though there was a spell of depreciation, that’s far behind the CSL now. You can still pick up an example with 60-70,000 miles on the clock for £50,000, but if you head below 50,000 miles you’re starting at around £70k. Really low-mileage cars are now nudging £95k.

That brings it into direct competition with the Mercedes-Benz AMG CLK63 Black, a car with a set of performance figures as big as its name. 

It’s a rare car but one that helped to inspire a revamp of the AMG brand. It cost £100k and has hardly depreciated – we found a 70,000-mile car on sale for £70,000, though for a low-miler you’re looking at £95k. 

But can the AMG Black really do the business on track against one of the most beloved modern classic BMWs? And is the M3 CSL really worth all of the market hype?

RP - M3CLK_preview.jpg

Mercedes-Benz CLK63 - AMG Black Series

It takes a while to get into the CLK63 Black – there’s so much to take in – scoops here, polished alloys there and steroidal bodywork addenda. While it doesn’t wear its trackday aesthetic as openly as a Porsche 911 GT3, it’s clear this Mercedes is far removed from a normal CLK.

We’ve become accustomed to Mercedes going hardcore, mainly thanks to the mainstream success of the C63, with which the Black shares its engine. But in 2007, when the CLK Black was released, such a hardcore AMG was a shock – its creations had always been fast, but they’d largely lacked the handling finesse that was a trademark of BMW’s M division. The CLK DTM and SLK 55 AMG Black had raised the bar, but the CLK Black really grabbed the headlines. And in the low winter sun, it’s hard to peel your eyes away from its burly form. 

All that pumped-up aggression is matched by the CLK Black’s 6.2-litre M156 V8 engine. There’s no refined whisper here, but a baritone rumble that’s more NASCAR on idle. It has vast reserves of torque too, which it’s constantly reminding you of as you try to move off smoothly. Tap the throttle and there’s a deep thump from the rear, like an angry drill sergeant hitting you in the back of the head to keep up marching pace. And all this before you get on to the circuit…

Once you do it’s clear that this isn’t a car for lap times or apex-clipping elitism. Try that and you’ll find that the huge engine dictates proceedings with healthy doses of understeer. Instead, the CLK63 is emphatically about sideways entertainment. Very sideways.

Even with traction control on, you can feel the Pirelli P Zero Corsas wanting to let loose, which they do fairly easily. With TC off you can pull tail slides at any speed, yet it doesn’t feel intimidating. It’s willing to play, and can turn a novice into a drifting legend.

That confidence is boosted by the steering. Even if the overly fat steering wheel looks like a partially deflated bean bag, turn-in is accurate and there’s plenty of feedback to allow you to gather up the rear. It’s much more communicative than most of its AMG forebears. 

You don’t miss a manual gearchange, because the huge torque allows you to drive it on the throttle. On a tight track you could conceivably leave it in third, drifting your way around until you need a tyre fitter. Most of the punch comes in past 4000rpm, by which point your ears are treated to full-on TVR-style blare all the way to the 7000rpm redline and a watercolour world painted in sheer speed. You’ll be past 60mph in just over four seconds and well past 125mph eight seconds later. 

Downsides? The seven-speed Speedshift gearbox may upchange faster than you can blink, but downchanges aren’t as quick. That really only matters if you’re going for lap times. 

It's an expensive car – but then it feels like one. There's lashings of glossy carbonfibre and you really can get a sense of the impressive engineering that went into this car. Those big arches swallow a wider track – up 75mm at the front, 68mm rear – while the coil-over suspension can be adjusted for ride height and camber, and the dampers fiddled with for rebound and compression. Despite all that racecar adjustability, in standard form it's smooth and compliant over bumps. 

Other modifications to the standard CLK AMG include an additional oil cooler for the transmission, while there’s a pump and oil cooler for the steering system and active differential. The carbon ceramic brakes have lots of feel – but if you need to push the pedal hard you'll find that stopping power is almost governed by how willing you are for your molar fillings to end up on the dashboard. 

But for all its racing car-derived tech, it’s really not best driven like a racing car. That tendency for mid-corner understeer, plus those truculent downshifts, mean it’ll never be the scalpel that the M3 CSL is. But if your remit for a track car is wanton sideways fun and to hell with the lap times, then the CLK Black will leave you with a silly grin normally reserved for scrumpy drinkers.

RP - CLKM3-112.jpg
RP - CLKM3-152.jpg
RP - CLKM3-139.jpg

BMW M3 CSL (E46)

It took some gumption for BMW to wheel out its CSL moniker for the E46 M3. After all, that title was last used on the lightened E9 homologation special of the 1970s.
A legend in its own batwings. 

But it's more than just a branding exercise. M division junked the M3’s electric seats, replacing them with glassfibre buckets, and was generous with the carbonfibre on almost every visible surface. The outside has plenty of  carbon too – the entire roof is a one-piece unit, lopping 6kg off the kerbweight alone. There’s more carbon in the spoilers fore and aft, and extensive use of glassfibre and plastic in other panels too. The lightweight forged alloys save 11kg, and the track control arms are aluminium instead of iron. In all, 110kg came off – but the main aim was lowering the car’s centre of gravity.

The bucket seats are relatively generously proportioned and rear chairs are still there – it may be track-enhanced but it’s still practical. We’re not here for the daily commute, though. Time to hit the circuit.

It doesn’t take long for the CSL to bewitch you. Nearly all of the sound-deadening material was junked in the pursuit of weight savings, so you can hear all the rattles,
all the crunches and, most importantly, the S54 B32HP straight-six engine. There’s an extra 17hp over the standard car’s 343bhp, and it packs a high-flow carbon air intake and lightweight exhaust manifold, both straightened to aid engine responsiveness. 

And by golly it works. The M3 CSL doesn’t so much accelerate as suck you from apex to apex like a matchstick in a vacuum cleaner. There’s only a veneer of torque at about 4000rpm, but stick with it to 8000rpm and your ears zing to the rasping buzzsaw engine note. It’s raw, uncouth, exciting and utterly addictive. 

Its on-paper stats may not seem too impressive over the standard M3 – especially given the price differential – but it feels so much faster, so much more alive. Sixty is swallowed in under five seconds, 100mph in six seconds more.

But while the engine seduces, it’s the steering that inspires devotion. You can feel every ripple, every knot in the tarmac, and response is nothing short of incredible. There’s no delay in your commands to the front wheels – it feels as if the drivetrain is directly linked to your synapses. The steering rack has a slightly higher ratio than the standard car, giving you glorious bite around the straight-ahead and less arm-twirling when you're on it. 

Like most owners, Dan Norris of Munich Legends has junked the standard-fit semi-slick Michelin Cup tyres – this CSL is wearing Michelin Pilot Super Sports. The deeper grooves provide spectacular levels of grip, even in damp conditions. Throw the CSL into the corner and it feels utterly planted; there’s a whiff of understeer but backing off the throttle and correcting doesn’t unsettle the rear. At high speeds those carbon spoilers and splitters offer an astonishing 50 per cent more downforce than the standard car, and after a spirited track drive your battered innards will attest to the car’s cornering stability.

The big problem is the SMG II semi-automatic gearbox. While it feels satisfyingly meaty in operation, and each 0.08-second shift is 0.8 seconds quicker than a standard M3’s SMG, it feels like it takes an age to downshift. Advances in gearbox technology since the CSL launch make it feel as obstinate as a pre-bedtime toddler. It lacks the tactility of a manual gearshift or the
immediacy of more modern paddleshifters. On more open circuits and less complex B-roads it feels much happier and easier to drive around. But on this smaller, tighter track, it feels sulky.

The brakes, while progressive, don’t inspire as much confidence as you’d hope. Combine that with the uncertainty of the gearshift time and you really do have to maintain your concentration to get the best out of the CSL. It’s not a power-oversteer superhero – it’s much more cerebral than that. 

The joy comes from hitting those apexes, perfecting those lines, matching the downshifts to the braking, getting everything right in search of the perfect lap. 

The M3 CSL isn’t for everyone – but for those it bewitches, it becomes an obsession.

RP - CLKM3-92.jpg
RP - CLKM3-141.jpg
RP - M3CLK-15_preview.jpg

The Modern Classics view

BMW and Mercedes approach the trackday special recipe from two directions. The more serious BMW is the equivalent of golf; you’ll always be in pursuit of the perfect lap, and you’ll be back at it again and again. The Merc is rather more like football – it’s as serious or as silly as you want it to be, though best enjoyed with good humour.

The CLK Black is the most entertaining on the track. But while its propensity to go sideways at all times, even with the traction control on, is great fun on the relatively safe confines of a circuit, for some it could be less welcome on damp, busy A-roads. As it happens we love its unhinged character. Despite this, you can’t help but enjoy it on track or road – if you’ve got the stomach for the latter. It feels properly exciting, yet utterly refined when you just want to relax on the drive home.

The M3 CSL is a fabulous car. Get it wound up on the right track or the right B-road, and it’s truly superb. It’s still a firm ride but the damping is slightly softer than the CLK's, and there’s more exploitable fun at legal speeds. The CSL is also much more predictable on the super-sticky Michelins. But it’s a car that only gels when you’re fully on it, and will annoy when at a relaxed but brisk pace. The SMG II may have been lauded in its day for its speed, but now, in modern traffic and with a decade of gearbox development ahead of it, it feels clunky and slow. However, it takes just one B-road sortie to forget all of that – engine, sound, chassis balance and steering are sublime.

Either car is so different in philosophy, there’s a case for owning both in a dream garage. The M3’s pleasures are less obvious than the Black’s – it’s a car that needs to be learned and adapted to. If you’re looking to spend £70k-plus on a track toy, you don’t want to be making excuses. In the real world the CSL may offer greater tangible entertainment, but only in short doses. A great car for £55k? Undoubtedly – but not worth the £70k-£90k being asked for low-mileage cars. 

The CLK Black feels every penny of its lofty pricetag, from the execution to the drive itself:  it feels like it's on another level to the M3. It paints its entertainment in broad strokes – and tail slides – and that won’t be for everyone. But the chassis is so easy-going and so willing to play on track that it’s hard not to be won over. Again, it’s not perfect, but the torquey delivery mitigates its gearbox woes more easily than the CSL’s. You’ll also need strong resolve to drive the CLK as hard as the M3 on a B-road, but that only adds to the allure for us. 

Though the CSL glitters, it is the three-pointed star that shines brighter here.

This article appeared in the February 2017 issue (issue 9) – to buy a copy, and get all the photos and more besides, Click Here

Peugeot Perfected

 
download+(1).png

When you sign up to the newsletter you will receive exclusive Modern Classics magazine content every fortnight! Love your hero cars from the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s? Then this is the newsletter for you. 

 

Peugeot Perfected

Giving a tired, engine-swapped 205 GTI to Peugeot UK’s apprentices meant they benefited almost as much as the car did

Words Nigel Boothman Photography Laurens Parsons/PSA Academy

Laurens Parsons Photography-5.jpg

The Peugeot 205 GTI should be a perfect subject for restoration: small, simple and enjoying a recent and sustained surge in value. 

The appealing little Peugeot’s classic credentials are assured, but its status is still changing. In the past 15 years, 205 GTI fans have watched them move from an everyday sight as third-hand, beer-money cars to something rare and desirable. Now, as parts support dwindles away, it's far from simple.

So, how would Peugeot fare when it turned 150 of its own apprentices loose on a 205 GTI it bought especially for the job?

This restoration had to be organised like no other. Imagine you have a car to strip, fix and rebuild, but you also have six groups of teenage apprentices as your manpower. They arrive for week-long residential blocks of training before disappearing for six weeks until their next block. It calls for imagination and no small amount of flexibility, as PSA Academy's Jason Giblett and senior trainer Simon Foster know well.

‘The lads come in for four or five days in a row,’ says Simon. ‘Each of these training blocks covers a different topic. We tend to introduce that topic with a couple of days of theory and take it from there.’

This is more than just a long session in a stuffy classroom. With a teaching aid like a 205 GTI on hand, Foster can give the apprentices a bit of freedom to get inquisitive and even to lead the direction that the project takes.

‘Take the suspension as an example,’ he says. ‘The lads would learn how it’s arranged, but also what the shortcomings might be on a Modern Classic like the 205,' he adds. 'Most importantly, are there ways to modernise or improve the set-up? They’d research this, and when we’d come to a decision about the best way forward, it would be up to them to source the parts too.’

Laurens Parsons Photography-68.jpg

‘We arranged the work to the 205 against the needs of the training, not the other way round,’ adds Foster.

With the car fully stripped, rotten floorpans and isolated holes elsewhere became apparent. PSA’s training academy didn't have a bodyshop programme, but ended up running one, anyway. 

‘Our lads did all they could as far as stripping and preparation went – I reckon 400 or 500 hours went into the shell alone,’ says Giblett. ‘After that, the guys in the technical centre took over, welding in new floorpans and fixes to the other damage before painting it and returning it to us.’

That non-standard Mi16 engine seemed in to be fine health, so the apprentices concentrated on cleaning and re-finishing the alloy parts and replacing every service item – belts, seals, hoses, plugs and filters.  

‘The Mi16 engine goes straight in to the 205’s engine bay, albeit on to different engine mounts, but it’s a tight fit.’

Away from the running gear and power unit, the interior was deemed too grubby to re-use and the project received a new kit of seats and cards bought as a set from a trimmer. The apprentices learned how to re-fit the loom and replace all the ancillaries, but some of the most time-consuming puzzles arose simply from a lack of parts availability. If Peugeot themselves get stuck, then what?

‘There are some things for the 205 GTI still listed in our catalogue, but most items are hard to source. Spoox Motorsport, who supplied the car, tracked down a good deal for us,’ says Giblett. Throughout the 18-month restoration, trainers made extra time for apprentices who wanted to stick around and do more.

‘In every group there were always a few who wanted to stay an extra hour and keep working on the car,’ he says.

One of those apprentices was Dan Cook. He works for Howard's Peugeot in Weston Super-Mare and was halfway through his apprenticeship when the 205 arrived. ‘I was already well into older cars,' he says. 'I’d even done some autotests in a BMW 3-series I bought before I started. The work on the 205 gave me more confidence, and since then I’ve done a few projects of my own. I bought a MkI Scirocco Storm for £150 and spent eight months restoring it.’

Cook wound up as PSA UK’s Apprentice of the Year and went on to train as a Master Technician. When the busy weeks of hard work on the 205 finally came to an end, you’d think the car’s role as a learning aid did too.

Apparently not, says Jason Giblett. ‘It’s a tribute to what the apprentice programme can do and we’re keeping it to inspire others. We’re also planning what the next car will be. A 2CV? Maybe an AX GT?’ 

Laurens Parsons Photography-39.jpg
Laurens Parsons Photography-19.jpg

Is it good to drive?

If you've never driven a 205 GTI, then you'll be completely unprepared for the sensory overload it's capable of delivering. From the tips of your fingers, via your gluteus maximus, and down to the ends of your toes, every bit of you is bombarded with feedback.

But hang on a second. Aren't we here to judge this car on the merits of its restoration? Nah. You already know it's flawless, and everything looks, feels and operates like new. The seats have been retrimmed beautifully, the carpets are box-fresh, and even the boot floor looks like it's just come out of the factory. 

So, yes, thank you PSA Academy for building us a new 205 GTI to play with. For a generation of petrolheads, a day in this car is automotive nirvana. 

First thing to consider, though, is that Mi16 power unit under the bonnet. Oh yes, that thing. Although it looks like it has always been there, the race-bred XU9J4 power unit – all 160bhp of it –was never fitted to the 205 GTI by the factory. PSA reserved it for the 309 GTI, 405 Mi16, and Citroen BX 16 Valve. Let's not think about these as donors.

Instead, consider its boisterousness when you fire it up. It idles cleanly, if noisily, and comes with hair-trigger throttle response. The slender gearstick controls a frankly truculent change, and the non-power-assisted steering makes it feel cumbersome even before the off. You sit high, and dominate the light, airy cabin – the perfect driving position for fast and committed driving. 

Forget the biscuit tin feeling of flimsiness, and enjoy what's to come on the open road. Once underway, the 205 GTI really weaves its magic on you. As there's 160bhp to shift just 875kg, it's hardly a surprise that it pulls vigorously. Although  it's an engine that's known for peakiness, there's no lag in the 205 GTI. It pulls hard from idle speed and in pretty much any gear. Although there are no official performance figures, anything this side of a BMW 330i is easy prey.

Laurens Parsons Photography-73.jpg
Laurens Parsons Photography-62.jpg

So, it's fast. Compellingly fast. That much is obvious from the off. But we all know that what the 205 GTI is legendary for is its sublime handling and delicate feedback. So, heading away from the Coventry base of the PSA Academy, we stay away from the A-roads and dual carriageways that criss-cross the region, and hunt for challenging B-roads. Although it's a challenge in wettest Warwickshire, it's one we can live with in the 205 – it's a sheer delight to drive.

When we do find those sinuous back roads, the lively GTI takes on an altogether more playful persona. Let's start with the ride and handling, which are simply superb. It's been fettled to perfection by the PSA Academy apprentices, and as a consequence, suspension control is superb.

It's stiff, but never to the point of discomfort, and that's a trade-off that  results in electrifying turn-in and roll-free, neutral handling. Surface lumps and bumps you'll find on your typical British B-roads are shrugged off disdainfully, and when you really push on,  you can lean on it, and depend on it to grip and go.

Waiting to hear about lift-off oversteer? Forget it. On the modern tyres this one is wearing, you'll struggle to get near to its limits of adhesion. Impressive stuff.

But let's leave the best 'til last – the steering. It's here that the 205 GTI sets itself apart from every other hot hatch, and emerges as a true sports car. It positively writhes in your hands, nearly overwhelming in its feedback, telegraphing every nuance of the road's surface. It's the primary reason why you'll make the 205 GTI dance. 

This driving brilliance is the reason to restore. We're glad the PSA Academy is far from being alone in feeling this way.

This article appeared in the January 2017 issue (issue 8) – to buy a copy, and get all the photos and more besides, Click Here

Fighting Back

Porsche 968 ClubSport vs Maserati Ghibli Cup

In a battle to survive the dark days of the early 1990s Porsche and Maserati went hardcore. Do they still have the skills to thrill?

Words Sam Dawson Photography Lyndon McNeil

club-sport.jpg

As far as cliché is concerned, the 1980s was Porsche’s decade. The mix of Group C race wins, reliability and an association with success meant six-figure production runs for the 924 and 944.

Over in Modena, Maserati spotted an opportunity to enter this new world of mass-market exotica. The Biturbo, and later the 222-era cars, were the result. 

However, come the early-1990s recession, the everyday exotica market vanished. Both marques needed a new strategy, but with their cashflows choked off they had to be based on proven mechanicals, yet reworked for a new market. Salvation lay on circuits, with track days and single-model race series blooming in popularity. 

Porsche was the first to cherry pick this market by focusing a new car on it. The 968 Club Sport, evolved from the 944, featured a stripped-out interior, stiffened anti-roll bars and seats adjustable by Allen key. Unusually, it charged less for this special edition.

A year later, Maserati’s Ghibli – in essence a 222E with Quattroporte IV bits nailed to it – spawned a customer race series, called the Open Cup, and a roadgoing version of the competition cars. The Ghibli Cup had Momo bucket seats, stiffened suspension and a screaming 2.0-litre, twin-turbo V6 with, at 330bhp, the highest per-litre power output yet seen..

Nowadays, the near-double price differentials between these variants
and the standard 968 and Ghibli II models they are based upon reflect their special status as superior driving machines, the finest of their respective – sometimes corrupted – bloodlines. 

However, they’re far more important than that in the Modern Classics universe. Without them, would Porsche and Maserati even be around today? 

IMG_7320.jpg

As far as cliché is concerned, the 1980s was Porsche’s decade. The mix of Group C race wins, reliability and an association with success meant six-figure production runs for the 924 and 944.

Over in Modena, Maserati spotted an opportunity to enter this new world of mass-market exotica. The Biturbo, and later the 222-era cars, were the result. 

However, come the early-1990s recession, the everyday exotica market vanished. Both marques needed a new strategy, but with their cashflows choked off they had to be based on proven mechanicals, yet reworked for a new market. Salvation lay on circuits, with track days and single-model race series blooming in popularity. 

Porsche was the first to cherry pick this market by focusing a new car on it. The 968 Club Sport, evolved from the 944, featured a stripped-out interior, stiffened anti-roll bars and seats adjustable by Allen key. Unusually, it charged less for this special edition.

A year later, Maserati’s Ghibli – in essence a 222E with Quattroporte IV bits nailed to it – spawned a customer race series, called the Open Cup, and a roadgoing version of the competition cars. The Ghibli Cup had Momo bucket seats, stiffened suspension and a screaming 2.0-litre, twin-turbo V6 with, at 330bhp, the highest per-litre power output yet seen..

Nowadays, the near-double price differentials between these variants
and the standard 968 and Ghibli II models they are based upon reflect their special status as superior driving machines, the finest of their respective – sometimes corrupted – bloodlines. 

However, they’re far more important than that in the Modern Classics universe. Without them, would Porsche and Maserati even be around today? 

IMG_7365.jpg
LMP_9986.jpg

Porsche 968 Club Sport

It’s a harsh, unyielding world inside the 968 Club Sport. Padding on the Recaro racing seat is wafer-thin, door cards are near-featureless save for a manual window-winder, and the black, plasticky dashboard could have come out of a 1990s supermini – at least on 944s this dash was often treated to swathes of colourful cloth. 

There are no rear seats, and you get the impression that specifying a rollcage would have been more logical than a radio. It’s a message beyond that of mere driver-centrism – this car’s focus is on winning races, or nailing every apex on multiple track days.

I turn the key, expecting a yelp followed by a restless bass-buzz, but I’m met with a quietly undistinguished four-cylinder fizz. Prod the accelerator and the predominant sound is a big-lunged gasp rather than an unrestrained roar. Could the track modifications be shoestring posturing rather than genuine poise? The standard 968 was heavily criticised for being too luxurious, expensive and remote in a 928-lite manner when new.

Thankfully it only takes a few seconds behind the wheel to realise the extent of the Club Sport makeover’s effectiveness. The ride is choppy on uneven surfaces, but once on smooth tarmac that wheel pulses with masses of feedback, rather like that kart you thrashed on track on your stag do. In no way does it feel like a car with power steering and 205/55 ZR16s up front. It’s an intuitive steering rack too, with no dead-zone straight-ahead, the nose darting into country-lane bends with little more than a quarter turn of the fat wheel.

So far, so Porsche, but it’s the Club Sport’s behaviour mid-corner that sets it apart. Pitch a 924 hard into a bend and the body rolls noticeably. Do the same with a 911 and you have to keep your mind on the car’s imbalanced rear-engined physics to avoid emerging on to the next straight backwards. With this 968, there’s no nose-bob or side-to-side shimmy, just an impressively neutral 50/50 chassis stance that responds to mid-corner throttle adjustments, yet unlike a 911, backing off will bring its tail neatly back into line. Accelerate, and the rear-end piles on the grip as keenly as any rear-engined Porsche.

But it’s the engine that truly defines the 968. It was the first Porsche to receive the VarioCam system, tensioners lengthening the intake valve’s timing under throttle load. As a result, it always feels as though it’s in its torque band, rapidly reeling in an endless elastic horizon while the initial uninspiring underbonnet hum becomes an exhilarated scream as low down as 2000rpm. The flick-wrist six-speed gearchange is as compliant as the best Japanese sports cars, rather than the baulky walking-stick that protrudes from the floor of a pre-1989 911.

Admittedly it’s not as fast as a 911. However, from the perspective of a proper B-road hoon, it’s infinitely more compliant. And in the real world, that actually makes it the better car.

IMG_7511.jpg
LMP_9922.jpg

Maserati Ghibli Cup

For a car derived directly from a GT-class racer, the Ghibli Cup feels almost too civilised, especially compared to the Porsche. There are imposing Momo bucket seats, but they’re beautifully upholstered in suede. There are usable similarly finished rear seats, a dashboard full of electrics – including the window switches – and although a strip of carbonfibre circumnavigates the cabin, it still has the famous ovoid carriage clock.

The driving position, as well as being more comfortable than the Porsche’s, is similarly well laid-out. The Momo
wheel in particular is beautifully sculpted, despite looking like part of a co-ordinated, yet still markedly aftermarket, budget cockpit facelift.

Turn the key, and the V6 burbles into life. Prod the throttle and there's a noticeably bassy undertone beneath the hissing turbochargers. Aurally it’s closer to a big V8 than a small V6.

The gearchange doesn’t slot home with the same sharp precision as the 968’s. Despite the hefty metal ball, the action is a plasticky-feeling short-travel click rather than a big-GT clank, lending it a feel closer to a hot hatch than a supercar.

Under way, despite the power steering, the Ghibli’s stocky 215/45 ZR17 front tyres lend the car a resistant, weighty quality. Initially this suggests the steering feel will be dulled but, once up to A-road speed, it’s clear it's dealing with an enormous amount of grip. What the 968 achieves with the balancing of engine and transaxle along the chassis, the Ghibli emulates with gluey foursquare adhesion to the road. Perhaps overcompensating for the Ghibli’s wayward older sister, the Biturbo, Maserati created a car that feels impossible to unstick, at least in the dry.

Naturally there are drawbacks to this. There’s no sense of mid-corner adjustability. Rather, you pick your line, stick to it and power out. As with TVRs of this era, there’s a sense that there’s often no progressive, gradual breakaway in cars with roadholding so apparently viceless, thus when it does finally let go of the road, you’ll probably be going too fast to regain control.

What it does give you is the confidence to use its colossal power. Accelerate hard down a straight, and that torquey burble hardens in volume and savagery up to 3500rpm, upon which the turbochargers sweep whistling into life, lifting performance on to a further, more aggressive plane. It’s no supercar – the 2.0-litre engine may have a phenomenal specific power output but it’s still a
1424kg car – but its behaviour is sophisticated, with none of the lag found on the era's overboosted shopping trolleys. You have to be smooth with the Ghibli, but power comes in progressively as you head for 168mph. Yet such is the torque that it’ll happily cruise down motorways too. 

In civilising a racer, Maserati built a true dual-role high-performance car and luxury GT all in one.

SPECIFICATIONS                  Porsche 968 Club SPort                   Maserati Ghibli CUP

Engine:                                   2990cc/4-cyl/DOHC                        1996cc/V6/DOHC

Power:                                    236bhp@6200rpm                           330bhp@6500rpm

Torque:                                   225lb ft@4100rpm                            275lb ft@4000rpm

Maximum speed:                   152mph                                               168mph

0-60mph:                               6.2sec                                                 5.6sec

Fuel consumption:                 19-32mpg                                            22-25mpg

Transmission:                          RWD, six-speed manual                    RWD, six-speed manual

HOW MANY LEFT?                 66                                                       24

IMG_7714.jpg

Buying tips: Porsche 968 ClubSPort

Some dealers are passing off Sports as Club Sports by aesthetically modifying them. While they are similar in terms of suspension, it isn’t possible to replicate the specification with the Sport exactly. To spot a real CS, look for manual windows, a glassfibre panel in place of rear seats and a pull-cable release for the rear hatch. There shouldn't be mountings for rear seats, either.

Detailed service history is a must, and take care leafing through it. Look for evidence of the exhaust camshaft belt and tensioner, inlet camshaft chain and balancer shaft belts having been changed every 50,000 miles. 

A whining sound from the rear end signifies a worn pinion bearing in the transaxle assembly, which requires a lengthy gearbox stripdown and rebuild at a cost of £2000. 

Although the Club Sport’s ride is understandably firm, any knocks from the suspension are usually the sign of worn-out dampers.

Brake caliper baseplates can lift up when the aluminium corrodes, causing the brakes to bind. It makes it impossible to fit new pads, so people bodge it by grinding them. A £150 per brake stripdown and rebuild is the only solution.

IMG_7690.jpg

Buying tips: Maserati Ghibli Cup

Make sure it’s complete, as some basic parts are virtually impossible to get hold of now. Tail-light clusters, trim, plastic bumpers – if they’re missing or damaged, getting hold of them isn’t easy. 

If the engine warning light stays dark on start-up, this suggests someone has unplugged it to conceal a fault, and very few specialists will have the Marelli diagnostic equipment to track down the problem.

Rust attacks Ghiblis from underneath. Also, water collects just below the bonnet hinges, causing rust that allows the electrical system to get wet. Budget for undersealing on purchase.

Make sure you're buying the real deal. Back when these cars were nearly new, many owners fitted Cup trim and badges to standard Ghiblis when the spare parts were readily available. Confusing matters, there were two Ghibli Cups – the 330bhp roller-bearing-turbo 2.0-litre, and the ‘hybrid’ Cup which teamed the Cup chassis with the Ghibli GT’s 285bhp 2.8-litre engine. The hybrid will be easier to live with, but not as sought-after as an investment. To tell the difference check the ID plaque on the front crossmember – genuine Cups are stamped AM577, while GT engines are AM496; they also have an ECU per bank rather than a single ECU.

IMG_7619.jpg

The Modern Classics view

Both these cars were born of the same urge – to use motorsport credibility to change the image of their respective brands, as everyday exotica was unfashionable and, thanks to the recession, unaffordable to anyone but a lucky few.

Both succeeded. The Porsche 968 Club Sport sold to the burgeoning track-day market, and sired the bigger-selling 968 Sport with its rear seats and electric windows reinstated. For Maserati, the Ghibli Open Cup race series raised the marque’s profile as a builder of exciting performance cars.
A new era of well-built and competitive Maseratis began soon after the Cup, with the 3200.

For cars conceived for such similar reasons, they achieve the same goals in dramatically different ways. The hardcore Porsche feels light and flighty yet utterly controllable, every aspect of its dynamics built around the balance of its transaxle layout. Some 911-bred Porsche purists might find it lacking in mechanical intrigue, but in doing so they’d overlook the sheer compliance available. It’s entirely possible a 968 Club Sport could outhandle
a normally-aspirated 964 on a circuit whose bends make it more about handling than acceleration. Ultimately, it demonstrates the inherent excellence of the then-20-year-old 924 platform, and the rewards of Zuffenhausen thoroughness and polish. Porschephiles should accord it more respect.

The Maserati Ghibli Cup, on the other hand, is a beautiful silk purse, the stitching lines around the remnants of sows’ ears barely visible. It’s the result of radical corrective surgery rather than antiseptic evolution. Thanks to its G-force-bending roadholding and torrents of power, it will achieve the same on track as the Porsche, but will feel altogether more dramatic – and, dare we admit, a tad scary – while doing so.

However, there is one factor that swings this test in the Maserati’s favour. It manages to be a genuine GT and a tarmac-gobbling sub-supercar at the same time. The 968 is too single-minded by comparison. It seems near-perfect in isolation, and yet so far as bald figures are concerned, the Cup is on the pace.
It might have taken Maserati a decade to get the Biturbo/222 right – but when it did, it created an all-time great.

This article appeared in the January 2017 issue (issue 8) – to buy a copy, and get all the photos and more besides, Click Here

Killer Redhead

The standard Testarossa too boring? Not '80s enough? Don't worry, you could plump for Koenig's astonishing 800bhp remix. Hang on and enjoy the ride. 

Words Rob Scorah Photography Neil Fraser

FerrariKoenig.jpg

What do men with power want? More power. So if we extrapolate that, what do men with a supercar want? More power, a body kit and an exterior colour-coded cabin. Fair enough, but what if the soon-to-be empowered supercar is already one of the most flamboyant machines to have taken to the road? Things are going to get outlandish, that's what. 

Behold the 1987 Koenig Ferrari Testarossa Competition Evolution II, the ultimate incarnation of one of the 1980s' most potent bedroom wall stars. Depending on what angle you catch it from, you may be thinking F40, custom drag racer or 512M. The latter was a later addition by the third owner, who thought the standard Testarossa nose just too prosaic. So he sent it back to Koenig for further surgery. All this isn’t so much gilding the lily as giving it an aluminium weave stem and razor blades for petals.

In its day, the Testarossa had some stick from the old guard as being too much the poseur, a hairdresser’s car – and one without competition pedigree at that. Men who yanked the Daytona’s recalcitrant parking-speed steering with one hand sighed and shook their head. But a standard Testrossa looks relatively restrained next to this mass of ducts and spoilers. And the interior's positively sombre.

FerrariKoenig2.jpg
FerrariKoenig3.jpg

When describing many supercars, we might gloss over the interior – but here, it's to be celebrated. This is a symphony of excess. Open the door, and there's a sudden rush of red – of a shade you might more expect to see in Liberace’s tour bus. When you’re sitting in it, in bright sunlight, that interior starts to glow. If, no doubt like some of Koenig’s more ‘artistic’ or hedonistic clients, you had had a few heavy or otherwise ‘interesting’ nights, you might think that some kind of psychedelic experience was kicking off behind the wheel. 

In place of Ferrari’s standard, tombstone seats, there's a pair of moulded, high-backed and shoulder-embracing structures that look like they will hold you firm when the ordinary Testa's benches let you slide sideways when the cornering forces that this car can generate take hold. 

OK, we're trying to ignore the vibrant blue ‘Koenig’ script on the four-point harnesses, (look at it long enough and the letters will burn into your retinas), but they too are an improvement on the usual same-as-a-Fiat-Uno seatbelts. And lastly, there's the steering wheel. Thicker, slightly smaller and with moulded thumb grips. Oh, and it's red. Very, very red. 

Still, unlike the original designers, Liberace and his assistant did acknowledge that you might be generating some serious forces in this machine, and they furnished you with the body and hand-bracing tools to wrestle with it. Other than these items, the cabin is pretty standard, except for one final hint as to the nature of this thing; the speedo now goes up to 320km/h (200mph). 

FerrariKoenig7.jpg
FerrariKoenig5.jpg

Time to drive this bespoke 1980s monster. The sun is streaming through the glass, and we're looking between the plush stitched leather and the tiny Perspex sliding window. It's easy to believe that this car might have some identity issues. And with ‘the glow’, we're feeling the need for painkillers and sunglasses. And we're not even hungover. But otherwise, we're ready. Bring it on.

‘On’ is the usual ignition key, and start-up is a snuffling whinney, a snort. That's then a whumf, which settles into a menacing growl of a slightly more nervous pace than the standard idle. It's an angry-sounding car, this.

Knowing how much power has been pushed from the big horizontally-opposed 12-cylinder sitting quite high behind your right shoulder, it’s quite a surprise to feel the usual benign clutch of a Testarossa. And, like its standard cousins, the monster trots off slowly on little more than tick-over, grumbling to itself as it goes. Apart from the row, it could be a Mercedes-Benz trickling forward such is its docility. Lamborghini would have done well to take note.

As soon as you think that though, you reach down to click through the open gate, going from first – close in by your thigh – to second, forward and to the right. It’s a little stiff of course, at least until the oil warms up. Idling towards a main road, there’s time again to take a deep breath and prepare for what's about to happen.

Once again, it's time to take stock of the super-wide bodywork, but from the perspective of the driver’s seat.The Testarossa’s standard mirrors – generally quite good ones by supercar standards – have been replaced by angular and elfish little ears. There doesn't appear to be any way of adjusting them. The far side one gazes into space, while the driver’s one stares down the assorted ducts of the rear pod. So we’re going to have to rely on the centre mirror, which does its best to peer out of the engine cover openings and under the F40-style rear wing.

FerrariKoenig6.jpg

By now, we’ve reached wide, black tarmac and the Koenig’s ready to prowl. There’s a lot that’s familiar Testarossa – the supple ride, the smooth spooling up of power. It may say 'Competition' on the wide door sills, but thankfully no one’s seen fit to harden up the suspension to the point of blurring your vision. Dampers and springs dismiss potholes with a far off thud. You feel nothing through the seat and the car tracks straight. The front wheels take a little notice of ruts and grooves, but a grip of the steering wheel keeps the front where you want it.

Yes, the Testarossa was a great tourer, allowing very low-input progress when you wanted it. But a quick stab of the throttle and a down-change will remind anyone that both Koenig and the Testarossa held secrets that could so easily be unleashed. The tacho needle jumps, the engine tone hardens, and, even in this weighty GT, the change in pace is immediate.

Go in too hard and you’ll hear a guttural hiss from the rear and feel a slight wiggle through the seat as the big beast’s huge rear tyres break traction under the power. Complete with tyre smoke, it's a party piece at low speed, but really it just breaks the Ferrari’s rhythm and poise. Better to roll your heel steadily, grip tightly and hang on.

The delta-winged sled hunkers down, digs in and takes off like a jet on a steam catapult. It makes the ferocious mechanical noises you'd hope for from an 800bhp projectile. Accompanying this is a rorty yarp rises from the exhaust, while the instrument needles climb quickly through some alarming numbers. The absurdity of where you’re sitting then flashes across your awareness – the boudoir leather combined with racing seat rigidity, the reclining driving position and the shoot-from-the-hip gear change flowing all this power through the cogs. 

It’s kind of automotive glam-rock. And as tight bends approach, you wonder what this sizable rig will do, though glancing this way and that to try to get any kind of framing reference from the mirrors is useless. At least you can always have confidence in a Testarossa’s steering, the nose turning in a reassuringly exact answer to the twisting of the wheel. And no matter how much lock is applied, the car seems to be tucking itself in tighter. 

The body roll of the standard car has gone, presumably tied down by the heavier duty springs and anti-roll bars. The big GT’s stance is neutral, no fighting to make it turn under power, but equally little reaction if you muck around with the throttle mid-bend. Though probably best not to try that on an 800bhp Testarossa’s limits.

But it's amazing that, despite the Ferrari in a Rocky Horror ball gown appearance, the machine just deals with anything you through at it. Autobahns – obviously. A-roads, lots of fun. B-roads, still pretty nimble. 

Foolhardily, yes, it could follow a Caterham into narrow country lanes, and give it a damned good run for its money – at least until the Koenig’s rear end jammed between the hedgerows and the Caterham scurried away. Apart from the insane width, the car is a testament to both maker’s and modifier’s ability.

Of course, the Koenig is great at devouring continents with ease. You can drive from Calais to Geneva without breaking a sweat. It excels at blasting down coastal highways, its banshee wail drifting towards the mountains inland. Perhaps the greatest travesty against the car was Ferrari’s muting it with a muffling exhaust and too soft a suspension so as not to upset its plutocrat clientele. But Willy Koenig freed up the Testaroosa’s inner hooligan.

FerrariKoenig4.jpg

The Modern Classics View

Firstly, it's probably worth getting the real world stuff out of the way first. The Koenig modifications – as time progresses – will probably leave this Testarossa worth less than its unmodified cousins in a market where originally means everything. It'll be harder to sell, too, as well as maintain, should you chip its bodykit or kerb a wheel. 

But does that matter when you have 800bhp at your disposal, and are driving the ultimate incarnation of 1980s bedroom wall poster excess? The Koenig is an astonishing car – it allows for you to dial in as much or as little wildness as you want at any given moment. It’s a comfortable tourer, now with added ‘vividness’.

The engine is superbly tractable, though if you plod through rush hour traffic, it takes on a ‘chorus of the damned’ moan just to emphasise its boredom. What is the ultimate satisfaction of this thing is that, with a snap of a gearchange and dab of throttle, it's transformed.

As quick as the needles flash across their dials, the Koenig morphs from grand barque to destroyer, from elegant tourer to molten Nismo street racer. It leaves hot black tyre trails on the tarmac and its exhaust yowl scorches into the walls. And then back again – all in time for tea at the marina.

We hope the original owners of these boutique hotrods knew they are best taken with a slice of irony and a wicked sense of humour. That they should revel in these creations, but not take the whole thing too seriously. You'll have an awful lot of fun that way.

This article appeared in the June 2016 issue (issue 5) – to buy a copy, and get all the photos and more besides, Click Here

Civic Unrest

The Honda Civic Type-R is one of the finest analogue driving experiences you can get. With the numbers of decent cars thinning out, now’s the time to buy.

Words Nathan Chadwick Photography Laurens Parsons

CIVIC-2.jpg

Performance

  • 0-60mph:                6.6sec
  • Top speed:              146mph
  • Economy:                33mpg

HONDA CIVIC TYPE-R EP3

  • Engine:                      1998cc/4-cyl/DOHC
  • Transmission:            FWD, 6-speed manual
  • Power:                       197bhp@7400rpm
  • Torque:                      145lb-ft@5900rpm
  • Weight:                      1204kg

If you’re struggling to understand why the Honda Civic Type-R is now an investment opportunity, we understand. After all, many thousands left its Swindon birthplace, and it seems like only yesterday that the streets were filled with the unmistakeable whine of EP3s charging around. More recent still is the memory of poorly modified examples. We know what you’re thinking – surely there are too many of them around?

But we need only look at the precedent set by the Peugeot 205 GTI. Top-quality Pugs worth waving your well-earned at are now £10,000, with truly exceptional examples trading for much more. The Honda is now at the same stage the Pug was at just 10 years ago. The difference between the very best, low-mileage cars and the ones you wouldn’t touch with someone else’s are getting further apart. Values are already strong for the best examples and, like the 205 and the 206, the replacement wasn’t quite as good.

This means the Civic Type-R has a bright future. The very best cars are worth seeking out and tucking away now. Still unconvinced? Let us show you why it’s such a good buy in the perfect place to demonstrate its skills – Wales.

Forget your preconceptions. Forget those tedious internet memes about VTEC kicking in (yo). Forget the badly modified Civic Type-Rs angrily trundling around Maccy D’s on a Friday night, their tailpipes so huge even Rocco Siffredi would feel inadequate. All that matters about Honda’s EP3 is what happens at 6000rpm.

This is when the Variable Valve Timing and Lift Electronic Control (VTEC) system makes its presence known. At higher rpm oil flow forces a slider pin through the camshaft rockers, which in turn locks the 'VTEC' profile and the low-rpm rockers together into one large rocker. The cam lobe that's now acting on the valves has a different profile designed to maximise high-rpm power output – and evoke Cheshire cat-like grins from those behind the wheel. Where other hot hatches would give up at 6000rpm, the Civic is thirsty for more – around 2000rpm more.
Get into this heady 6000-8000rpm zone and you’ll be relishing the pure, analogue zest. It’s the kind of palm-sweating, synapse-sizzling excitement that only comes when an engine’s screaming, the cabin’s resonating and the outside world is just a series of indistinguishable browns and greys. Head into a corner, thrust the ideally-placed gearlever down the close-ratio gearbox and let the revs sing as the Civic scythes through the apex. Boot the throttle, feel the extra shove come in past 6k, then bang up through the gears as the rev needle slams around the dial faster than you can blink.

CIVIC-6.jpg

But let’s calm down a bit and take stock – you have to appreciate what a change of pace the EP3 Type-R was for Honda. Of course, it wasn't the first Civic to wear the hallowed badge, but the EK9 Type-R was never officially brought to the UK. The EP3 Type-R was designed and built in Swindon – and you can sense the British B-road-honed quality throughout. 

A colleague describes the EP3 'R' as about as close as you’ll come to riding a motorbike on four wheels. He’s not wrong, though in the bleak midwinter in southern Wales, we’d much rather be in the Civic. The interior is enormous; there’s lots of space in the footwell and plenty of headroom. The centrally-mounted, rising gearlever frees up knee space and there’s even room in the back. The bright red Recaros are beautifully supportive, though some of the interior trim is overly plasticky and even on this sub 45,000-mile car shows signs of wear.

But this isn’t a car for smugly analysing the density of the interior plastics. Nor is it a car whose looks provoke eulogies, though it’s not ugly. The Type-R may not be beautiful, but it is purposeful and neat – quite an achievement, given the normal Civic was a blobby sub-SUV by this time. 

The engineers got around the problem by lowering the ride height by 15mm. The result is a car that’s sweetly poised, and one that seems subtle these days compared to the brand-new Civic Type-R. 

But the best fettling can be found under the skin. The Type-R uses variable timing control (VTC), which hydraulically adjusts the degree of overlap of all 16 valves, constantly adjusting them based on engine load. This adds up to a flatter torque curve than previous Type-R lumps. Though peak revs come in at a vertigo-inducing 7600rpm, 90 per cent of its 145lb-ft of torque comes in at 3000rpm – so once past that threshold you’d better hold on.

The gearshift itself is perfectly located, allowing you to pull off touring car-style ratio changes like a pro, although there is a caveat. Going across the gate requires an aggressive shove – as does dropping from sixth to fifth. Forgetting this on the motorway and falling victim to the 'box’s eagerness to centre, means you may find yourself in third, and probably deaf. This isn’t a car that responds well to the gentle touch. That’s part of the appeal, though. Pulling away requires a Noise Abatement Order-baiting dollop of revs and cruising at 30mph means 4000rpm in fourth. It appeals fully to your inner 21-year old.  

CIVIC-3.jpg

On the other hand, it shows a maturity in its handling that’s far beyond its greatest inspiration, the Peugeot 205 GTI. Whereas on period tyres the French offering would ping you into the nearest bit of scenery at the merest suggestion of the revs dropping, the Civic Type-R is much more benign.

True, there’s a sense of numbness through the steering wheel, but that’s just the car telling you to try harder. Start gnawing at the edges of the chassis’ extremities and the steering livens up. And it’s not murderously twitchy like a MkI Focus RS, either. Push the Civic into a corner and it’s as flat as a Fenland relief map, understeer only coming in when you’re being an absolute muppet. Lightly back off and the nose will simply tuck in. 

Torque steer only becomes a problem in the wet, under serious provocation. Turn-in is fantastically judged, and the Civic is so easy to place you can nail every apex. The 300mm ventilated anchors up front give you all the faith you need too.

Honda fitted two extra struts at the bottom of the front bulkhead; another nestles between the rear wheelarches. The dampers and springs are firmer than the standard Civic, and there are stiffer roll bars fore and aft. So the ride is firm – but it’s not flummoxed by B-road undulations, which gives you plenty of confidence to push harder. The more vicious you become, the more the car comes alive. It positively thrives on it, almost seeming disappointed if you change up before 6000rpm.

It’s about as close as a hot hatch gets to a full on racer, certainly this side of the much more specialist (and expensive) Renault Megane R26R. Get the engine singing past 6000rpm and all your senses tingle in time to the engine, your heart beats faster to the howling torrent flowing through the bulkhead and you’ll want to keep on driving until forced to stop. 

The Civic Type-R is very focused, to the point of sacrificing luxury and refinement, but its analogue highs will have you salivating at the thought of your drive home. It’s not for everyone, but once it’s got its hooks in, you’re under its spell.

Now, can we have another go, please?

CIVIC-4.jpg

The Modern Classics View

If ever a driving experience elicited pure joy at the expense of common decorum, this is it. It’s noisy, it’s in your face, it’s not for those who like to relax. But if you find it is your thing, very little else comes close for the money.

That’s at the very heart of why this car has such a big future. We’re now entering the age where owners are moving away from outrageous mods and cherishing low-mileage examples. Facelift UK cars with sub-60k miles are now around £6k-7k. Decent cars start at around £4500-5000, and below that it becomes a bit of a lottery. While the Civic Type-R is a hardy creature, diligent oil changes with the right stuff are key – no car is infallible, and more than a few will be hiding crash damage.

In five years the best low-mileage examples will top £10,000, which will drag up values lower down the chain. But it would be a shame to see Type-Rs become static garage queens – they were built to be driven, hard. Anything else would be missing the point.

That might seem a bit of a paradox – hard driving with one eye on future values – but the EP3 is the exception that proves you really can have your cake and eat it. Great to buy, drive and own. What are you waiting for? 

This article appeared in the May 2017 issue – to buy a copy, and get all the photos and more besides, Click Here

Rolling Double Six

Some cars lead charmed lives; some have chequered histories. But these BMW E24s are now so good, you'd be hard-pressed to tell the difference.

1.jpg

They say familiarity breeds contempt. The ubiquity of BMWs on UK roads means the brand is to prestigious motoring what a layby fry-up is to fine dining. Notable exceptions aside, most BMWs are as much 'white goods' as Hyundais. 

 But look at the E24 6-Series. Take in the lean, mean sharknose, the elegant Paul Bracq-penned form and the just-so mixture of aggression and elegance. These BMWs are from a special era, far removed from the seemingly infinite number of tired 318i E46s.

The E24, like all BMWs, has been through its dark, disposable period. Just five years ago, you could easily find usable-but-tatty 635 CSis for less than five grand. They were just big, thirsty coupés that had entered the cheap to buy, expensive to maintain territory. 

But not now. With the cult of M dragging the M635 CSi up into £40k territory, the 635 is being brought up with it. Concours 635s are pushing £25k+, with good cars starting at around £15k. 

This means the 635 CSi is a car that demands reappraisal – and what better way than to drive these two E24s, which have led very different lives?

One is a treasured family heirloom, modified at great expense at the factory with a limited-slip differential and a close-ratio dog-leg gearbox. The other is an automatic that fell into disrepair, but was then rescued for just £25 and restored to period-modified glory.

Both offer fascinating insights into the E24. In standard form the 635 was a big, automatic cruiser that cost £13,000 more than a Jaguar XJ-S. Yet with a few key – and expensive – options ticked it could become a B-road blitzer as feisty as a mid-engined Ferrari. We kid thee not.

Time then, to meet the heroes of the tale – and roll these double Sixes out.

2.jpg

they say familiarity breeds contempt. The ubiquity of BMWs on UK roads means the brand is to prestigious motoring what a layby fry-up is to fine dining. Notable exceptions aside, most BMWs are as much 'white goods' as Hyundais. 

 But look at the E24 6-Series. Take in the lean, mean sharknose, the elegant Paul Bracq-penned form and the just-so mixture of aggression and elegance. These BMWs are from a special era, far removed from the seemingly infinite number of tired 318i E46s.

The E24, like all BMWs, has been through its dark, disposable period. Just five years ago, you could easily find usable-but-tatty 635 CSis for less than five grand. They were just big, thirsty coupés that had entered the cheap to buy, expensive to maintain territory. 

But not now. With the cult of M dragging the M635 CSi up into £40k territory, the 635 is being brought up with it. Concours 635s are pushing £25k+, with good cars starting at around £15k. 

This means the 635 CSi is a car that demands reappraisal – and what better way than to drive these two E24s, which have led very different lives?

One is a treasured family heirloom, modified at great expense at the factory with a limited-slip differential and a close-ratio dog-leg gearbox. The other is an automatic that fell into disrepair, but was then rescued for just £25 and restored to period-modified glory.

Both offer fascinating insights into the E24. In standard form the 635 was a big, automatic cruiser that cost £13,000 more than a Jaguar XJ-S. Yet with a few key – and expensive – options ticked it could become a B-road blitzer as feisty as a mid-engined Ferrari. We kid thee not.

Time then, to meet the heroes of the tale – and roll these double Sixes out.

It’s May 2013 and Taylor Hetherington is training as a car mechanic. Across the yard is a council lock-up, and one day he notices the door hanging off to reveal a BMW 635 CSi showing signs of vandalism. Taylor, anxious to protect a nice car – whoever it belongs to – screws the garage door shut.

A year later, the car still hasn’t moved and Taylor’s never seen the owner. But he discovers the Council are planning to demolish the garages. ‘If the Council try to find the owner, and fail, they scrap the car,’ he says. ‘I wasn’t going to let that happen.’

So he applies for a V5C through the DVLA, which means the last known keeper would definitely be contacted. They would probably reply, and once alerted to the dangers of the car’s abandonment, would retrieve it. And if they don’t, the car would find a willing new owner in Taylor.

They don’t. But Taylor is still keen to do the right thing, and having seen the previous keeper’s address on his new V5C, he goes round to the house to make sure it really is okay to take on the BMW. ‘The lady who answered the door was fine with it,’ he says. ‘She even gave me the original set of keys.’

The owners were demoralised by the vandalism and lost interest in the car. So what had Taylor taken on? ‘It needed tyres, brakes, a new battery, a damn good service, but it also had rust in the front wings and underneath near the rear axle mounts.’

That was a problem. Taylor, still new in his chosen trade, hadn’t yet mastered the MIG welder. The damage wasn't too severe, and so with the rear screen and side quarter glass replaced, the worst of the vandals’ dents and scrapes tidied up and new springs (lowered by 35mm), Taylor took to the road. 

 He would have been surprised to see another 635 CSi on his home patch. Yet only a few hundred yards away lived a black 1986 car – Taylor’s is early ’85 – with a manual 'box rather than the auto Taylor was getting used to. But it wasn’t often seen because its owner, Gavin Spencer, drove a Corsa as his daily. After all, this 635 was special.

Gavin’s grandfather had a particularly good day back in August 1986. He gained a grandson, Gavin, and ordered a BMW 635 CSi. He used it to commute but retired it from daily use after only two years, when he also retired from full-time work.

All for the best. With the ZF dog-leg five-speed and no cruise control or air-con, it’s more B-road blaster spec than the chilled, cruise-enabled automatic that Taylor found himself with. But those B-road qualities were what stuck in Gavin’s mind.

‘I went to visit my grandfather when I was 14 and we went out for a drive – a very rapid drive – in the 635. It’s a very fond memory.’

Sadly, Gavin’s grandfather suffered a stroke not long after that. The car sat in the garage with very little use for at least ten years, but it wasn’t neglected. A local mechanic attended to any servicing needed. 

‘A few years ago, I heard my grandfather had decided to sell it,’ says Gavin. ‘Someone had made an offer, but when I said I was interested he said if you want it, you can have it.’ Gav sold his CRX and stepped in.

With just 37,000 on the clock, Gavin’s 635 took on the status of a well-polished family heirloom. He found a set of 8-Series split rims to avoid paying £400 a corner for metric TRX tyres. He also went to the odd BMW classic car event, like the meet-up at the Ace Café. And there, he saw another 635. When they realised they lived close to each other, each was glad to have a local ally. 

‘I’d learned to weld by this time,’ says Taylor. ‘I dropped the rear suspension beam, diff and all, and repaired the rust near where it mounted. While all that was accessible I cleaned and repainted everything, servicing the diff and checking the limited-slip clutches for wear.’

A set of braided brake lines future-proofed the car’s stopping power and Taylor moved forward to the other rusty bits. He fixed a hole in the offside toe-board and then discovered that new front wings were £800 each. So Taylor fitted a pair of second-hand ones, performed a sill-end repair and applied plenty of rustproofing wax. Finally, it went for a full respray. A set of rare 16in BBS Mahle wheels finished the job in March 2016. From 111,000 miles as found, Taylor has quickly rattled up to 123,000.  

Time for us to sample the goods. Sitting in Taylor's Diamantschwarz (metallic black) 1985 car, you can't help but feel like a bit of a playboy. The wraparound dashboard and comfortable Pearl Beige chairs transport you to an era of pre-GATSO motorway blasts, where chainsmoking executives in such big coupés would charge from London to the Midlands without dropping below the ton. The slim pillars and huge expanses of glass give you incredible visibility, and help to make the interior seem much bigger than it actually is. This is seriously easy living. 

Taylor's 635 rides firmer than standard, and the unassisted steering feels heavy through the thin, aftermarket Nardi steering wheel, but it's still relaxing. Until you nudge the accelerator into the carpet, that is. 

There's an audible and physical thunk as the three-speed ZF 3HP22 autobox drops down, giving you a satisfying, urgent surge; the M30/B35 issuing a rasping shriek to all those who dare to get in the way. 

3.jpg

As exciting as Taylor's car is, it's only the warm up for Gavin's. You may wonder why his grandfather spent all that extra money on a close-ratio, dog-leg ZF manual and an LSD with 25 per cent lock, when he could have bought an M635 CSi. 

With his older E24 taken in as part-ex, Gav's grandad paid £28,850 in 1986. With 1989 figures to hand, an M635 CSi cost £48,000 – £110,846 in today's money and
a price difference equivalent to an entire E28 525i. That £1000 LSD option seems like a bargain.

 Gav's fitted a Fritzbits exhaust, and that makes the six-cylinder sound glorious at full revs, a howling scream that makes your ears grin as much as an M3 at full chat – it's almost as exciting as an M635 CSi. 

The standard-fitment steering wheel is more confidence-inspiring in the corners than Taylor's Nardi, with accurate, tight turn-in and plenty of info for your fingers to digest. And you'll be glad of that when it comes to braking for a corner.

All E24s have long brake pedals, with all the force arriving at once after what feels like an aeon. It's a system that needs getting used to, but put your faith in it and you'll soon be stringing corners together like a pro. And once you do you'll understand that with a manual, this is just as exciting as more exotic, Italian cars. The rampaging zing from the tailpipes helps, and it feels so much faster than the bald statistics suggest. This is a properly quick, supremely engaging car. 

4.jpg

These two cars are very different, both showing the dynamism of the E24 breed. Taylor's evokes the modifying scene of the late-1980s and early 1990s, all sinister, brooding menace. Gavin's shows what this big GT could do with its hair let down. Both are a credit to their owners.  ‘We both really appreciate the 635,' says Taylor. 'I loved the idea of giving a car a new lease of life.’

Gavin’s experience has been about preservation, but his car also means a great deal to him. ‘When I got the 635 from my grandfather, he said: “You can pay me for it or it won’t seem like something that’s worth looking after.” He’s passed on now, but he was absolutely right. I’m very glad I had the chance to keep it in the family.’

 

Words: Nigel Boothman and Nathan Chadwick

Images: Neil Fraser

 

This article appeared in the February 2017 issue of Modern Classics magazine. For a longer version and extra pictures, click here to pick up a copy. 

Priced out of the E46 M3 market? Fear not…

The modern classics market is hot for BMWs at the moment.

We’ve seen everything from Z3M Roadsters to M635 CSis surge in value over the past few years. 

Anything with the propeller badge with a big engine is likely to be dragged up in value, which includes the E46 330Ci. It’s already seen as the poor man’s M3 but you’re only really down around 100bhp and it’s cheaper to insure and run.

The 330Ci is a great rational sports coupé. It’s practical, comfortable, largely well built and capable of long journeys without wrecking your spinal cord. Okay, it doesn’t have the kudos or performance of an M car, but it’s much more rewarding on the road.

It’s also a lot cheaper – the very best 330Cis are around £8k – and costs less to tax and run, you don’t have to buy all those M Power specific bits. That figure will only get you into the shabbiest M3, and one with an SMG at that.

Pay £8000 for the best manual you can find and we forecast it’ll be up to £11k in a few years’ time.


LIKE WHAT YOU'VE READ? 
 

MAKE SURE YOU'VE SIGNED UP TO OUR WEEKLY NEWSLETTER TO RECEIVE MORE FREE ARTICLES ABOUT BUYING, DRIVING AND ENJOYING CARS FROM THE 80s', 90s' AND 00s'.


ALREADY SIGNED UP?


THEN  HAVE A FREE DIGITAL ISSUE ON US TO ENJOY EVEN MORE ARTICLES ALL ABOUT MODERN CLASSIC CARS.


GET THE ULTIMATE 80S', 90S' & 00S' MOTOR FIX!

A SUBSCRIPTION TO MODERN CLASSICS MAGAZINE! AVAILABLE IN PRINT OR DIGITAL FORMATS, IN 6 MONTH OR YEARLY PAYMENTS.

7.3 litre AMG R129

A V12 Mercedes SL not enough?

Don’t worry, we’ve found an AMG R129 with a whopping 7.3 litres.

MercedesSL72_A.jpg

A Mercedes-Benz AMG SL72, one of just 35 built, is to be auctioned at Bonhams’ Goodwood Festival of Speed sale in June 30th.

Based on a 1995 SL600, AMG bored the V12 engine out to 7.3 litres, which meant that the performance grew to 525bhp and 553lb-ft of torque. That means the SL can surge to 185mph, with 60mph just a memory after 4.6 seconds. It was such a potent package that Horacio Pagani chose it to power his Zonda.

It was also such an appealing package that the Sultan of Brunei ordered 25 of them... in one go! This, however, is one of only 10 sold privately, and is one of very few badged as an SL72.

It was serviced last year and found to be faultless, and comes with a panoramic glass sunroof – to see if any helicopters can keep up, obviously – and has wonderful 18in alloy wheels.

Up for grabs with Bonhams at its Goodwood Festival of Speed sale on June 30, it’s got an estimate of £70k-£100k. Do you reckon that’s an accurate estimate? 


LIKE WHAT YOU'VE READ? 
 

MAKE SURE YOU'VE SIGNED UP TO OUR WEEKLY NEWSLETTER TO RECEIVE MORE FREE ARTICLES ABOUT BUYING, DRIVING AND ENJOYING CARS FROM THE 80s', 90s' AND 00s'. 


ALREADY SIGNED UP?


THEN  HAVE A FREE DIGITAL ISSUE ON US TO ENJOY EVEN MORE ARTICLES ALL ABOUT MODERN CLASSIC CARS.


THE SECRET BEHIND GETTING YOUR ULTIMATE 80S', 90S' & 00S' MOTOR FIX?

A SUBSCRIPTION TO MODERN CLASSICS MAGAZINE! AVAILABLE IN PRINT OR DIGITAL FORMATS, IN 6 MONTH OR YEARLY PAYMENTS.

Why ‘90s supercars beat the best the ‘80s had to offer

Everybody waxes lyrical about 1980s supercars. They’re great – don’t get us wrong – but the sheer diversity that followed in the 1990s means that there’s something for everyone. It’s also the era of car that’s currently providing the hottest gains in the market.

We have properly old-school V8 brutes, six-cylinder screamers and even a rotary wonder. All of these cars will quicken the pulse faster than Pamela Andersen in her 1990s prime.

The Porsche 911 Turbo 993 is the last of the air-cooled hooligans, and offers synapse-splintering speed. And though it has four-wheel drive, it’s not a numb experience as our journalist finds out. Values have risen considerably – but is there still more to come?

The Ferrari F355 brought Maranello back from the brink – and how. With truly beautiful styling, spine-tingling sounds and fantastic handling, it won back many enthusiasts. Now those former teenage enthusiasts have money to spend – but has the market topped out?

The Honda NSX was the car that caused so much trouble for Ferrari – quick, slick and easy to use, it was a supercar that could be used every day. Prices have started to firm up – but where might they go now?

The TVR Cerbera married light weight with a huge V8, with truly eye-popping styling. For years it’s been the preserve of a hardened core – but could its time for wider appreciation be just around the corner (sideways)?

The Lotus Esprit V8-GT provides precise handling and turbocharged V8 shove, this is possibly the most exotic car to come out of Hethel. But does that mean it’s worth taking the Lotus position – as in, in your garage?

The Mazda RX-7 FD is the curvaceous, drift-inclined, stripped-down rotary-powered alternative to the norm. But does its reputation for histrionics hold it back as a true supercar contender?

FIND OUT BY READING THE FULL FEATURE IN OUR JUNE ISSUE


LIKE WHAT YOU'VE READ? 
 

MAKE SURE YOU'VE SIGNED UP TO OUR WEEKLY NEWSLETTER TO RECEIVE MORE FREE ARTICLES ABOUT BUYING, DRIVING AND ENJOYING CARS FROM THE 80s', 90s' AND 00s'. 

 

ALREADY SIGNED UP?


THEN  HAVE A FREE DIGITAL ISSUE ON US TO ENJOY EVEN MORE ARTICLES ALL ABOUT MODERN CLASSIC CARS.

 

THE SECRET BEHIND GETTING YOUR ULTIMATE 80S', 90S' & 00S' MOTOR FIX?

A SUBSCRIPTION TO MODERN CLASSICS MAGAZINE! AVAILABLE IN PRINT OR DIGITAL FORMATS, IN 6 MONTH OR YEARLY PAYMENTS.

B-Road weapons attack the tarmac

The May issue of Modern Classics is on sale from May 5th and, as usual, is over-brimming with features

We take a group of the smallest and most engaging hot hatches to Wales and remember what these cars are all about… having fun behind the wheel. But which of the five junior hot hatches is the fastest and most furious?

The poster supercars that adorned your teenage bedroom wall were invariably highly multicylindered, possibly Italian, bewinged and incredulously fat of tyre. Ultimate Top Trumps winners, they remain the perfect willy-waving ‘mine’s bigger than yours’ choice.

But here, on a seriously showstopping sequence of north Welsh roads a car such as a Lamborghini Diablo would be maximum overkill. Power thunderously out of a tight corner in first gear, and, er... remain in first; next bend, brake hard, accelerate in first and repeat, over
and over again…

What’s the use of hitting 65mph with your initial cog or doing 98mph in second? Pah, it’d be as entertaining as carrying out a Prince Albert on yourself using a javelin. No, up here, much less is much more. Time to invert your thinking and vote SNP (Small, Nimble and Punchy).

We’ve gathered five of that party’s finest candidates for you to consider. So will it be BMW’s new take on the old Mini Cooper S, the cutesy VW Lupo GTI, Ford’s hot Fiesta ST150, Pug’s stripped-out 106 Rallye or the Suzuki Swift Sport sleeper that takes the miniature hot hatch honours?


LIKE WHAT YOU'VE READ? 
 

MAKE SURE YOU'VE SIGNED UP TO OUR WEEKLY NEWSLETTER TO RECEIVE MORE FREE ARTICLES ABOUT BUYING, DRIVING AND ENJOYING CARS FROM THE 80s', 90s' AND 00s'. 


ALREADY SIGNED UP?


THEN  HAVE A FREE DIGITAL ISSUE ON US TO ENJOY EVEN MORE ARTICLES ALL ABOUT MODERN CLASSIC CARS.


THE SECRET BEHIND GETTING YOUR ULTIMATE 80s', 90S' & 00S' MOTOR FIX?

A SUBSCRIPTION TO MODERN CLASSICS MAGAZINE! AVAILABLE IN PRINT OR DIGITAL FORMATS, IN 6 MONTH OR YEARLY PAYMENTS.